Friday, April 09, 2010

Combining the right three filters extends the exposure and transforms the water's surface

Noted nature photographer Tony Sweet always seems to be doing more than one thing at a time, and one thing he's almost always doing is thinking up and trying out new ways to make his fine-art images better and more distinctive. Here's an example of how Tony keeps adding to his bag of tricks.

"Recently, while we were in between workshops in Charleston, SC," says Tony, "Corey Hilz, John Church, and I took a run to Edisto Plantation for a sunrise shooting session. First off, I was surprised to find that the gate was opened earlier than I expected, so we got to the beach in plenty of time for the great early morning light. As the light got brighter, however, longer exposures of the water quickly became more challenging. So I began to shoot macro subjects on the beach as we made our way back to the car.

"Then I got a small brainstorm... I wondered what would happen if I used my Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo to slow the water, well aware that turning the filter all the way down could cause some darkening. For test purposes, I shot this first image (above) with no filter, resulting in a banal image, not remotely what I wanted to achieve.

"On the second image, I added the Mor-Slo 5-stop neutral density filter, to achieve an 8-second exposure. This created a dramatic smoothing of the water in very bright light. I sensed that I was on the right track, but I wanted to give the water a much smoother mirror-like surface, which is easier to do in low light. Getting an exposure of 30 seconds or longer in this bright and rather harsh light would be difficult to say the least. And even if I did, the quality of light would still be very hot in this late-morning bright, cloudless sunlight.

"So, on this third image, I combined a Singh-Ray LB Color Intensifier filter along with the Vari-N-Duo and the 5-stop Mor-Slo ND filter. This caused slight vignetting, which I later addressed in post-production, but the glassy smooth water and color quality created by the 30-second exposure was exactly what I had in mind. Using this array of Singh-Ray filters made an otherwise 'impossible' photograph come to life as the image I was visualizing in my imagination. I know I'll be able to use this same filter combination many times in the future. And I was also reminded of the importance of always bringing along my full line-up of Singh-Ray filters... wherever I go."



In addition to being a staff writer for Nikon World magazine, the author of four books and producer of three instructional DVD programs, Tony maintains an active teaching/speaking schedule and serves as an instructor for BetterPhoto.com. Stop by his website or visit his blog for more details and current updates.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Revealing the natural beauty of wildflowers depends on achieving full color saturation

For most of the past 10 years, Canadian photographer Ethan Meleg has lived in Tobermory, near the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario (about 4 hours northwest of Toronto). The peninsula separates Lake Huron on its western side and Georgian Bay on the east. "Renown for its shoreline scenery and natural diversity," says Ethan, "it’s been a dream location for this nature photographer to call home.

"Among the area's natural attributes is a wide diversity of plants including 42 species of orchids, 50 ferns and a handful of plant species that are endemic to the region. There are various species of wildflowers blooming in this area from April through October. My favorite time is from late May through mid-June.

"It was inevitable I would end up learning to photograph wildflowers! And one of the most important lessons in that process was discovering the importance of achieving optimum color saturation. The flower above is a white variant of the Calypso orchid taken with a 100mm f2.8 macro lens on which I mounted my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer. The excellent color saturation achieved in this image and the three other images that follow is largely due to using the LB Warming Polarizer for every exposure.

"Whether your images are digital or film, color saturation can make or break their visual impact. This trio of Yellow Lady's Slippers was taken with a Canon EOS 1N film camera, an EF70-200mm L IS lens with the same LB Warming Polarizer. I find shooting with film is much more stressful. Without the histogram, it's difficult to get the exposure correct -- especially with bright wildflowers against a dark background. I got this image by bracketing extensively. Here again the color saturation was excellent, thanks to the polarizer.

"When shooting wildflowers, there are a number of technical challenges to be met. Wind and light are the two most obvious factors to contend with. Delicate wildflowers will sway with only the slightest breeze, so I typically shoot early in the morning -- from sunrise to approximately 1 hour later -- before the wind begins to build. The lighting I prefer for wildflower photography is either the warm, soft light occurring at sunrise or sunset, the shadowless light on an overcast day or in 'open shade.' To supplement and control any of these natural lighting conditions, I also carry a diffuser disk to soften direct light as well as reflectors to fill in the shadows.

"As if windy and low-light conditions weren’t enough to threaten the sharpness of my wildflower images, there's quite often the issue of depth of field. To get a flower head in focus with a typical macro lens or one of my telephoto lenses with extension tubes, I try to work with a very small aperture. For this image of Showy Lady's Slippers, I chose an exposure of 1/5 second at f/20. I always use a sturdy tripod, ball head, cable release and mirror lock-up to achieve minimum camera motion and maximum sharpness. When it comes to stopping wind-blown wildflowers, the greatly improved image quality of the newest digital bodies -- even at higher ISO settings -- is a huge benefit. I regularly shoot at ISO 400 and will go much higher when I need to.

"But I want to wrap up all this tech talk by repeating my main point: I rely on my LB Warming Polarizer to assure the best wildflower image quality possible. This image of the Striped Coralroot, which was taken with the help of two off-camera flash units, represents another way I benefit by using my polarizer to reduce glare and improve color saturation. For me the LB Warming Polarizer is essential for shooting wildflowers. What's more, the filter's improved light transmission allows me to use a somewhat faster shutter speed than a conventional polarizer.

"To become a proficient wildflower photographer, it's important to learn as much as possible about their biology and habitat preferences. The more we know about a species, the easier it becomes to find them in bloom."

Due to an unusually warm spring in Ontario this year, Ethan is expecting a bumper crop of wildflowers in time for his June photo workshop. For details on participating, visit his website. And be sure to check out his blog, too.